Jonah: Running from God
Jonah 1:1-3 & 3:1-5, 10
Reading the story of Jonah... I was reminded about a little girl who was talking with her teacher about whales. The teacher said it was physically impossible for a whale to swallow a human because even though a whale is a very large animal, and has a very large mouth, its throat is very small.
But the little girl insisted that the Bible says Jonah was swallowed by a whale. The teacher insisted that a whale simply could not swallow a human, it was impossible!
The little girl said, "Well... when I get to heaven I will ask Jonah".
The teacher asked, "What if Jonah's not in heaven?"
The little girl replied, "Then you can ask him!"
Most of us can remember from our years in children's Sunday school that Jonah was swallowed by a "whale" (or more accurately a big fish)... but sometimes we may forget why he was swallowed up in the first place...
If you recall: God called Jonah to go to Nineveh, a city that was corrupt, and preach God's Word to the Ninevites... and if they repented, God's wrath would turn, and the city would be saved. Which annoyed Jonah, to say the least.
Jonah thought the Ninevites deserved God's wrath... and he didn't want to preach God's message of repentance and salvation. So he did what any sensible person would do... he ran! He boarded a ship and set sail hoping to get as far away from God, and God's call, as possible.
But, there was a problem. A storm began to rage at sea... and in desperation the sailors tossed Jonah overboard (after he mentioned he was running from God)... and that's when the Big Fish enters the story. Jonah found himself in the belly of that Big Fish for three day... plenty of time to pray, and to think about his situation: before the Big Fish safely delivered him to dry land.
That's where our lesson for today picks up: God calls Jonah - a second time - to go to Nineveh... and this time he goes... reluctantly... but he goes! And much to Jonah's surprise, and chagrin, the king and the people of Nineveh listened to God's message, and they fasted and repented. Which pleased God... but angered Jonah... Jonah pouted and grumbled and sulked for the rest of the story...
That brings us to our first lesson from Mark: which is a stark contrast to the story of Jonah! It's the story of Jesus’ calling his first disciples... According to Mark, Simon and his brother Andrew, along with James and John "immediately" - "at once" - "without delay" - left their fishing nets and boats to follow Jesus.
The Gospel of Mark is the Gospel of urgency... Mark’s tempo (his pace) is much more hurried than the other gospels. Mark is the "Reader's Digest Condensed Version" of the Gospels! He packs in as much information as he can, as fast as he can... because he has no time to waste!
The early church really, honestly, faithfully believed that the end of the world was near... that Jesus was coming back any day! So it was unthinkable to Mark that the disciples could have done anything other than respond to Jesus “immediately.”
Of course... being human, and understanding human nature... it's likely that the apostles didn’t literally drop everything that exact second to follow Jesus. They probably had to make arrangements at work... check in at home, and all the usual things that we have to do before a major life change!
But, Mark’s telling this story from his particular point of view... which again was "posthaste" or "no time to waste." So Mark was stressing the point: that Jesus' calling was no normal, run-of-the-mill, business as usual, moment... Jesus' calling, was important. Important enough to tend to "immediately."
How often do we drop everything and follow when God calls?
Most of the time, truth be told... we tend to be more like Jonah... in our response to God, and God’s calling on our lives. We run... we’re slow and reluctant, we drag our feet, we’re uncooperative, and easily annoyed when God doesn’t do what we think He should do.
We can all make excuses with the best of em’ - myself included! Excuses about why we can’t do whatever God is calling us to do... or we can’t do it that way, or we can’t do it right now... maybe later... but not now.
Often God’s plans for us, God’s interventions in our lives, have very little to do with our own plans, and they are usually inconvenient. What God wants us to do may not be what we had planned, or the way we thought things would work out, or what we thought we would be doing with our lives.
Sometimes, like Jonah, we just don’t want to do what God wants us to do!
Of course, the other interesting thing about Jonah’s story, aside from his reluctance, is how annoyed he was that God was willing to give the people of Nineveh a chance to repent. Jonah just wanted God to smite them. He didn’t think they deserved a second chance, he didn’t believe they deserved saving.
How often do we feel the same way?
How often do we think that people with whom we disagree (or people we somehow think are beneath us) are not worthy of our time... our efforts... our forgiveness... or even God’s time, mercy and forgiveness?
It’s easier... so much easier... to just run away... It’s easier to pout and get angry... It’s NOT easy to forgive... and to seek restoration... and to set aside my (our) own pride for the sake of others...
We may find the story of Jonah amusing... or ridiculous, or appalling as he grumbles and whines about God’s offer of redemption to the Ninevites, and as he tries to run away from God.
But one things is certain: we are Jonah... Jonah is us.
If we’ll let God’s Word speak to us, through Jonah... if we allow the story speak to us... and if we search the depths of our own hearts and souls... we will find Jonah there within us... Jonah’s that part of us that judges and condemns, that desires justice rather than mercy.
But trust me... we may think we want justice... but we don't want justice. Justice demands that we get what we deserve. And God's Word says we deserve death. No, we don't want justice... we want mercy!
How much healing could we help bring to ourselves and our broken world if we could accept God’s love and mercy... NOT ONLY for ourselves... but for everyone else, as we have seen it lived out in Jesus?
Instead of running from our calling to share God’s Word... to share the powerful truth of the Gospel... let’s pray for a sense of urgency in this New Year...
Let’s seek to be disciples who respond “at once” to the urgent call of Christ. And, as followers of Christ, let’s ask God to help us embrace his immediate call on our lives... as we strive to embody the attitude and Spirit of Christ himself. The same Christ who declared, “The time has come... the kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”